Can Taiwan achieve something the US could not?

In the first half of the presidential campaign, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was bothered by one thing only: the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) seemed to be shadowing their every move.

The KMT sent King Pu-tsung, President Ma Ying-jeou’s campaign manager, on a US trip at almost the exact same time as DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s. King visited every city Tsai went to and delivered a speech at Harvard University, where Tsai also spoke, on the same day.

On the policy front, the DPP claimed that the KMT was being a “copycat” by plagiarizing Tsai’s platforms, including her policies on housing, tax reform, agricultural subsidies and labour.

The KMT denied the DPP’s claim.

The DPP went on to launch its slogan for the second part of the campaign – “Taiwan’s first female president,” a claim that the KMT can not duplicate for an obvious reason.

Her campaign adopted the slogan not because it is “trendy” or “fashionable,”, but because women are often more able to solve problems in a harmonious way through better communication than men, Tsai said, adding that women are usually more perseverant and persistent as well.

In constituencies of Hakka ethnicity, the DPP has been using “Hakka girl for president” as its main slogan to promote its candidate who shares the same characteristics – frugality and perseverance, among others – with Hakka women.

Tsai did try to run her campaign in a much “softer” way in comparison to previous DPP candidates. She made clear that she does not like “negative campaigning” nor fighting the rhetorical battle.

However, the slogan also has a strategic implication in securing more votes from women.

Seen as a progressive and confrontational party since its founding in the martial law era, the DPP has had a hard time to appeal to women voters, often trailing the KMT by more than 10 percentage points in elections.

Frank Hsieh’s loss to Ma, whose good-looking appearance is believed to be one of his advantages in vying for female voters, in the 2008 presidential election by more than two million votes marked the lowest point. An unofficial tally showed that more than 4.8 million of Ma’s 7.65 million votes, or 62.7 percent, came from women voters.

The party also cited various countries, including Iceland, Thailand and Germany, which are led by a female head of state, as examples, and said that it is time for Taiwan to have a female leader.

It would be crucial for Tsai to bridge the gap and vie for women’s support on the presumption of their preference for a female leader.

Results of various recent public opinion polls are mixed. A survey conducted by the Taiwan Brain Trust between Oct. 28 and 29 found that Tsai has cut her deficit in women’s support against Ma to 39.3%-35.7%, which the DPP said is the closest of any DPP presidential candidate, and has led Ma by 2.8 percent.

Another poll conducted by Taiwan Association of Pacific Ocean Development between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2 found that Tsai still trailed Ma 38.6%-30.3% in terms of women support and she is behind Ma by 7.3 percentage points overall.

The appeal seemed to be received well in DPP rallies and Tsai’s presidential campaign visits everywhere. However, do Taiwanese women voters prefer a female leader? Are they ready to do something the Americans did not do? It remains unknown until election day.

Chris Wang is a political analyst, writer and editor at the Taipei Times. He writes here in a personal capacity.